The PN Blog 2018 Countdown!

It’s one of the final blog posts of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2017 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


But before we get to the countdown, I want to briefly mention two interesting landmarks for the blog in 2018.

In January, we were cited as a source in a college term paper, which is pretty gratifying.

And in April, we were name-dropped in a CNET article about friend of the blog Hevesh5.

Okay, enough bragging. Let’s get to the countdown!


#10 Robot Invasion

With the rise of puzzle-solving programs like Dr. Fill and game-playing AIs like AlphaGo, we’ve been joking for years about machines trying to topple humanity from the top spot as Earth’s resident puzzle-solving masters.

But this year, it kinda stopped feeling like a joke. With Scrabble-playing robots, self-solving Rubik’s Cubes, and a computer program that might’ve cracked one of the most celebrated unsolved mysteries in puzzles, the machines might just be taking over.

#9 Crossword Fun

Crosswords are still the #1 paper puzzle in the world. With more than a hundred years of creativity, cluing challenge, and cunning construction behind them, they continue to fascinate and frustrate us. And we had a lot of fun with crossword topics this year in the blog. Two of my personal favorite entries were asking questions about common crossword clues and the post where we explored the brief-lived moral panic sparked by crosswords.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Unsung Heroes

They say history is written by the victors, and that’s true in the short term. But in the long term, history belongs to truth, and more and more, unsung heroes are coming to the fore and getting the well-deserved recognition denied to them earlier.

This is true in the world of puzzles as well, and this year, we had the privilege of putting the spotlight on two iconic women from puzzle history that had previously been lost to time and revisionism: codebreaking visionary Elizebeth Smith Friedman and spymaster Alexandrine, the Countess of Taxis.

#6 Citizen Shoutout

Interacting with the puzzle community is one of the highlights of doing social media for PuzzleNation. And some of the most enjoyable blog posts from this year involved focusing on members of the community and giving them kudos for their contributions to PuzzleNation and the world of puzzles in general.

As such, we created our Citizen Shoutout series to honor those folks, and along the way, we’ve thanked game shops, local escape rooms, and dedicated solvers who make the puzzle community a better place.

#5 PNVR

April Fools Day pranks are an Internet tradition at this point. Some websites go all out in celebrating the holiday. (Heck, ThinkGeek has started using the holiday to tease the public’s interest level in “fake” products, going on to actually release some of those April Fools pranks as real items later in the year!)

So after last year’s Puzzles for Pets gag was a big hit, we couldn’t resist getting in on the pranking fun again this year. The result — PNVR, a fake virtual reality puzzling experience — was as layered as it was silly, complete with fake quotes, splash pages, photos of people riding bikes while playing, and more. The visuals were amazing and hilarious.

#4 Puzzle Events

There are few things better than spending time with fellow puzzlers and gamers, and we got to do a lot of that this year. Whether it was cheering on our fellow puzzlers at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament or putting our hands dirty with some knock-down, drag-out, game-playing ferocity during our Tabletop Tournament, these interactions were both invigorating and encouraging. Events like these really help solidify the spirit of community that comes with being puzzly.

#3 International Puzzle Day Puzzle Hunt

And speaking of interacting with fellow puzzlers, for International Puzzle Day this year, we masterminded a little online puzzle hunt for PuzzleNation solvers. Involving clues hidden in both that day’s Daily POP Crosswords puzzle and Penny Dell Crosswords App free daily puzzle, solvers had to anagram and solve their way around the website in order to earn a prize. It was a serious challenge to design, and great fun to unleash on the world.

#2 Women in Crosswords and Roleplaying Games

Using the blog as an amplifier to get the word out about important causes and worthwhile projects is one of the best things about writing here. And this year in particular, we can be proud of doing our damnedest to vocalize the incredibly valuable role that women have played (and continue to play) in the puzzle/game community.

Whether it was discussing the gender disparity in published constructors in the major crossword venues or pulling back the curtain on misogynist gatekeeping in roleplaying games, we were privileged to ally ourselves with a brilliant, underappreciated contingent of the puzzle community.

#1 Wordventures

There’s nothing more exciting than getting to announce the launch of a product that has been months or years in the making, so picking #1 was a no-brainer for me. It had to be the announcement of Wordventures.

But it’s not just the app, it’s everything behind the app. I’ve watched it grow and evolve in development, and it’s truly unlike anything we’ve released before. The mix of music, imagery, storytelling, and puzzle-solving is so atmospheric and engaging.

It may sound self-serving or schlocky to talk about our flagship products as #1 in the countdown, but it’s something that we’re all extremely proud of, something that we’re constantly working to improve, because we want to make our apps the absolute best they can be for the PuzzleNation audience. That’s what you deserve.

And it’s part of the evolution of PuzzleNation and PN Blog. Even as we work to ensure our current products are the best they can be, we’re always looking ahead to what’s next, what’s on the horizon, what’s to come.

Thanks for spending 2018 with us, through robots and Rubik’s Cubes, through discoveries and daily delights, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2019.


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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Puzzly Delights!

Merry Christmas, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! (And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then Happy December 25th, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!)

I’m a sucker for a festive event, so I’ve got a puzzly double feature lined up for you today.

First, allow me to present a delightful video concocted by friend of the blog Hevesh5. Lily is a domino master who has created numerous domino chains and Rube Goldberg-style machines with elements that fit a given theme. So naturally, given the season, she’s devised a marvelous domino chain with all sorts of holiday elements. Enjoy!

And since we’re on a holiday kick, there’s an anagram challenge for you too!

What are the longest common words you can make from the letters in the following phrase?

M-E-R-R-Y C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S

No plurals or proper nouns are allowed, and you can only use the letters in the phrase. (Meaning, for instance, you can use 3 Rs, but not 4, since there are only 3 in the phrase.)

We came up with one 10-letter word, four 9-letter words, twelve 8-letter words, and thirty 7-letter words.

Let’s see how you do!

Have a marvelous holiday (or day), and happy puzzling to you!


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Jigsaw Puzzle Art Leads to Curious Creations!

If there’s one thing that puzzle fans of all shapes and sizes excel at, it’s pattern recognition. Whether it’s patterns of letters, patterns of numbers, patterns of logical facts, or patterns of puzzle pieces, puzzlers are outstanding at drawing order from chaos.

So it should come as no surprise that avid jigsaw puzzle solvers have noticed that some jigsaw puzzle companies use the same cutting molds over and over to create their jigsaw puzzles.

I myself realized this fact when I was younger. I was given three small Star Wars jigsaw puzzles, and all three of them were cut from the same mold. So once I’d solved one, solving the other two went much much faster. (I actually stacked them to make it even easier to complete the second and third puzzles.)

Naturally, this has led certain attentive and intrepid puzzlers to track down different puzzles with the same cutting mold to see how the two puzzles interact.

Artist Tim Klein is one of those observant individuals, and he’s had a lot of fun over the years crafting peculiar images by combining jigsaws with compatible molds:

Jigsaw puzzle companies tend to use the same cut patterns for multiple puzzles. This makes the pieces interchangeable. As a result, I sometimes find that I can combine portions from two or more puzzles to make a surreal picture that the publisher never imagined.

I take great pleasure in “discovering” such bizarre images lying latent, sometimes for decades, within the pieces of ordinary mass-produced puzzles. As I shift the pieces back and forth, trying different combinations, I feel like an archaeologist unearthing a hidden artifact.

And today, we’ve collected some of his puzzly creations for your enjoyment.


This mixture of summer and winter is marvelously balanced, particularly with the summer and winter bridges matching up so perfectly.

This fusion of a church and fairground adds a fun touch to an otherwise quiet and dignified image.

I like to call this one the Earth Mooover.

The Iron Horse comes to life in this surreal mashup.

In a natural evolution, this dinosaur train is no doubt the apex predator of the animal-train hybrid food pyramid.

This dinosaur/bunny monstrosity is a cuddly little ball of viciousness. No train parts needed.

Mixing up elements of three different puzzles brings us this Victorian ladypuppy in front of a scenic waterfall. This is dream or nightmare fuel, depending on your perspective.

This mixture of crosswords and fishing is wonderfully executed, offering the pleasantly appropriate metaphorical representation of “fishing for answers.”

And to close out this compilation of Klein’s jigsaw art, it seemed only appropriate to end on a holiday-themed note, with this kitty-in-kitty-in-present melange.


Klein’s jigsaw creations are as eye-catching as they are puzzling, and it makes you wonder what other hybrid constructions are awaiting the eagle eye of a devoted jigsaw puzzler.

[Images and quotation courtesy of Awkward.com and Twisted Sifter.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Zendo Expansion

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

Expansion sets have become an integral part of the gaming experience. Whether they offer new wrinkles to an established game, allow you to add additional players, or create new ways to use the same game pieces, they revitalize games that might’ve become less fun or interesting after lots of play.

It’s difficult to strike a balance with expansion sets, since they must respect the game that came before and add to it in a meaningful way, but without introducing any game-breaking mechanics or otherwise compromising what made the original game fun in the first place.

The designers at Looney Labs are absolute pros when it comes to balancing their expansion packs. Each one enhances the gameplay without sacrificing any of the original game’s clarity or cohesiveness.

In the past, we’ve looked at Looney Labs expansions like Fluxx Dice (which add further mayhem to an already chaotic game of Fluxx), the Just Coffee and Better with Bacon expansions for Just Desserts (which add new dishes and characters to deepen gameplay options), and the Bridge Expansion for Star Trek Fluxx and Star Trek: The Next Generation Fluxx (which allow you to combine both games into one).

Today, we’re looking at an expansion pack for one of the company’s most immersive and challenging puzzle games: Zendo.

In Zendo, the players pull pieces from a communal pile in order to build different structures, using pyramids, wedges, and blocks. One player, the moderator, chooses a secret rule for the players to uncover, and builds two structures. One of these structures follows the secret rule, and one does not, and both are marked as such.

Secret rules can be as simple as “must contain all three shapes” or “must contain exactly four pieces.” They can be as complex as “must contain more blue pieces than blocks” or “must contain at least one yellow piece pointing at a blue piece.” Some rules involve how pieces touch, or how they’re stacked, while others demand no touching or stacking whatsoever. The field is wide open at the start of the game.

Players then try to deduce the secret rule by building structures themselves, arranging pieces from the communal pile into various patterns and asking the moderator for more information.

So, how does the Zendo Expansion affect the original?

[The gray areas of the card are variable options to choose from, meaning each card offers several different possible rules depending on the moderator’s choices.]

The Zendo Expansion is a ten-card deck of new secret rule cards that allow the moderator to create more complex and challenging structures for the other players to unravel.

But these ten cards offer much more than just the rules themselves. They encourage both the moderator and the players to be more creative, considering not just the shapes and how they interact, but the overall look of the structure.

One of the cards requires players to shape the structure’s shadow into a given shape. Moving beyond the pieces themselves and incorporating the light and shadow of the play area is a clever and unexpected way to use the Zendo pieces.

It immediately sends your brain in new directions, both as a player trying to deduce other secret rules in later game sessions and as a moderator looking for new ways to prove or disprove players’ theories with your own builds.

Not only does the Expansion deck add all sorts of new twists on the original game, but it makes you want to be more ambitious and clever in your guesses and structures the more you play.

With new rule cards ranging from easy to difficult, players of all skill levels will benefit from adding this set of cards to their puzzle game arsenal.

Zendo and the Zendo Expansion are available from Looney Labs, and both are featured in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

A Rubik’s Cube is Brought to Life in this Short Film!

In the world of puzzles, there are certain images that are unmistakable, no matter what language you speak. A few concepts that are universally familiar and instantly recognizable.

A Scrabble tile. The black and white pattern of a crossword grid.

A small, multicolored cube.

The Rubik’s Cube is iconic, and it feels like part of the fabric of puzzles at this point. We’ve seen people set new records in speed-solving them, computers designed to solve them, and foods crafted to look like them. There have been Rubik’s Cube Halloween costumes, marriage proposals, and art installations. People are even designing and 3-D printing their own Rubik’s-inspired creations.

But no one has ever brought the Rubik’s Cube to life quite like Bastiaan Schravendeel and the team at Polder Animation.

In the short animated film Scrambled, we’re introduced to two unforgettable characters on a train platform: a girl named Esra and a nameless Rubik’s cube.

When Esra misses her train and busies herself with her phone while waiting for the next one, the perceptive little Rubik’s Cube makes its presence known.

This short is reminiscent of a Miyazaki film — a world with hidden surprises — as well as the charming interactions of Pixar films like Wall-E, and it will no doubt be the best six minutes of your day:

I could talk about all the messages and subtext underpinning this wonderful little story: analog play vs. digital, the value of feeling a well-earned sense of accomplishment, the magic of puzzles. You no doubt detected the same themes while you watched the short.

But instead, I’d rather give a shout-out to the wonderful animators who brought this world to life. Esra is instantly relatable, shutting out the world for a bit while waiting for her train, and the hilarious, puppy-like antics of the Rubik’s Cube are immensely engaging. You can’t help but root for the little guy, even if solving him seems to bring an end to his interactions with Esra.

It’s amazing how quickly you forge a bond with the Rubik’s Cube, and the animators deserve high praise for making a puzzle that inspires wonder and frustration in equal measure into one so endearing.

In an interview with Short of the Week, Schravendeel said:

The biggest challenge was to create a genuinely believable, likable and relatable character from a Rubik’s cube without making it about anything other than it being a Rubik’s cube. I’ve always liked films that manage to evoke emotion and personality from objects that usually don’t have any, especially if it can be done without dialogue.

Dialogue would have ruined the simplicity and wonder of Esra and the Cube’s interactions, and the mix of wordless communication and physical comedy made for a wonderful viewing experience.

Scrambled is a delight. I hope you enjoy.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Mary Engelbreit Loonacy

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

If you’re looking for frenetic, quick-play card games, they don’t come much quicker or more chaotic than Loonacy.

In Loonacy, players compete to dump all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles. They do so by matching one of two symbols on their card with the symbol atop the discard piles. For instance, if you’ve got a card with an owl and a queen on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with an owl on top or a queen on top.

But since every player in the game is doing the same thing at the same time — there’s no taking turns here — it’s a race to drop a matching card from your hand before any of the other players can drop a card from theirs.

Looney Labs has published two previous editions of the game — Loonacy and Retro Loonacy — but neither is as eye-catching, as lovely, as charming, or as unexpected as the latest edition, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy.

Unlike the cartoony character-centric images of the original or the nostalgia-fueled artsy icons of the retro version, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy brings a peaceful, almost folksy sense of style and humor to the game.

The imagery is gorgeous and heartwarming, depicting uplifting images that would fit in with any kitchen or living room. Words of wisdom like “She who laughs, lasts” and “Sooner or later, we all quote our mothers” mix with scenes of familial bliss, childhood innocence, or simple pleasures.

In a game that’s all about observation, decision making, instantaneous pattern matching, and rapid reflexes, juxtaposing that sort of anxiety-inducing gameplay with these peaceful, fun images is a stroke of genius, one that forces you to pause, even for just a moment, in order to simply enjoy Engelbreit’s delightful art.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy bridges the gap between the kid-oriented silly imagery of the original and the adult-oriented artsy feel of the sequel, making the best of both in one family-friendly package.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.

It’s also featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, alongside all sorts of terrific puzzly gift ideas, including other Looney Labs products like Zendo, Get the MacGuffin, Star Trek Fluxx, and more!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!